The value of optimality modeling has long been a source of contention amongst population biologists. Here I present a view of the optimality approach as at once playing a crucial explanatory role and yet also depending on external sources of confirmation. Optimality models are not alone in facing this tension between their explanatory value and their dependence on other approaches; I suspect that the scenario is quite common in science. This investigation of the optimality approach thus serves as a case study, on the basis of which I suggest that there is a widely felt tension in science between explanatory independence and broad epistemic interdependence, and that this tension influences scientific methodology.

  1. Introduction

    • 1.1

      The optimality approach and its detractors

    • 1.2

      The optimality approach and antireductionism

  2. Explanatory Independence

    • 2.1

      Optimality explanations

    • 2.2

      Causal patterns and context of inquiry

  3. Epistemic Interdependence

    • 3.1

      What optimality models overlook

    • 3.2

      Mutual epistemic dependence

  4. Balancing Independence and Interdependence

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